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Thread: Thomas' Gospel.

  1. #31
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Coptic Saying 6.

    His disciples ask him and say, "How should we fast? How should we pray? How should we give charity? What diet should we observe? Jesus says, "Don't lie and don't do what you hate, because all things are apparent before truth. After all, there is nothing hidden that won't be exposed."

    This does not cohere. Specific questions are asked and the response is only tenuously connected.
    1. Moralistic imperative not to lie, or do what one hates, ( knows to be wrong?)
    2. Repeat of a previous saying i.e work it out yourself.

    Is this deliberate, to force the seeker to think? If so, then there is the big probability that there is no definitive answer overall, only an individual one. But then perhaps this is the message. You are, each of you, intelligent enough to morally choose yourself on how to behave on specific issues. It's a bit like that saying about the priesthood, namely " Many are called but few are chosen," but which still leaves room for different types of priesthood and service, according to ones abilities and personality.

    Thus you do not have to starve in a horsehair shirt, on your knees in a cold cloister to be good. The saying neither recommends, nor rejects such observances.
    Internal performance takes precedence over external performance. It also seems almost to go against the orthodox saying, " Judge not, lest you be judged?"

    Or am I reading too much into it here i.e act according to your conscience, listen for any divine guidance within yourself, but be prepared for a final judgement. It brings to mind that quote from Churchill, " I am quite prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared to meet me is another matter."

  2. #32
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    The repetition of the previous saying is not really a problem. The redactor likely placed them together to show various implications of the same saying. I don't see an inherent non sequitur between "How should we fast? How should we pray? How should we give charity? What diet should we observe?" and "Don't lie and don't do what you hate"; or between that and "...all things are apparent before truth. After all, there is nothing hidden that won't be exposed" I take the meaning to be something like:

    Do not play the hypocrite in these matters with sanctimonious acts of pietism and prayers that do not reflect your heart. God knows your heart, and nothing can or will be concealed.

    I don't think it is quite "you are, each of you, intelligent enough to morally choose yourself on how to behave on specific issues." We have already seen that the Gospel of Thomas is more exclusive in its beliefs than that. It's more like: pietistic gestures will get you nowhere because God knows the truth. All this begs the historically important question of who (in Thomas' view) IS playing the hypocrite. In other words: whose pietism is the text cautioning the disciple against?

    If the Gospel of Thomas is indeed a 1st-century document, then it is likely criticizing proto-othodox groups (such as the authors of the Didache) who were adding fasts, dietary rules, and liturgical prayer to their religious observations. Thomas may even be reflecting an original teaching of Jesus. The Synoptics sometimes portray Jesus as being at odds with the Jewish pietism of his day. He heals the sick and defends his disciples for gathering grain on the Sabbath, for example. There is also Matthew 6:1, which instructs:

    "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men."

    These theological tendencies place the historical Jesus within in a long-established Hebrew Prophetic tradition valuing an individual's conscience before God over pietistic displays (it is not--as too many Christians pretend--a refutation of Judaism by Jesus). The presence of an apparently similar tendency in Thomas certainly raises questions. It is, of course, possible that the Thomas redactor and the historical Jesus both favored the anti-pietistic Prophetic tradition. This strikes me as probable, but it is impossible to tell given the surviving data.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 11-14-2017 at 07:10 PM.
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  3. #33
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    Coptic Saying 7.

    "Blessed is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion will become human. And damned is the human that the lion will eat."

    The principle underlying this saying seems to relate to identity and to transformation; and the playful language hides the complexity of the relationship of eating and such transformation. There exists a convention of a hierarchy of existence in the world, of which animals and man are part. The saying would warn that humans cannot assume an unchallenged and stable place in that hierarchy.

    A number of other points can be viewed as follows:

    1. Why a lion, and what does it represent?
    Traditionally a lion would represent; power, domination, kingship. By eating a lion, ( albeit unknown in any culinary dish I have come across), does one acquire these attributes? You are what you eat?
    Or on the other hand, the lion is to be feared. Eat your fears, or your fears i.e the lion, will eat you.
    Likewise, is the lion in this case a representation of evil? Consume or be consumed? This would tie in with the need to tame bestial natures, so desired in ascetic Gnostic circles at the time.

    2. Relationship with the other Gospels.
    Ones that come to mind include;
    (A) Peter 5.8 " Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." This mirrors one of the points above.
    (B) John's Gospel where Jesus talks about his disciples eating him and drinking his blood, as in the receiving of Holy Communion through bread & wine. Is the lion therefore in this case a representation of Jesus?
    (C) Perhaps an obscure comment on martyrdom, ( Ignatuis of Antioch?), though in this particular case it would be difficult to determine who came out the winner.

    I will finish with an acute, tangential, hopefully received light hearted reference to Churchill, who when addressing the troops in North Africa during the Second World War spoke the words;
    " I speak to you today from this famous amphitheater in Carthage, where once the air was rent by the screams of Christian virgins as they were devoured by the Roman lions. I am on reflection, not a lion, but then I am certainly not a virgin."

  4. #34
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    This is a difficult one. The lion is probably a symbol of worldly power--something the Thomas community seems to have especially shunned. My hunch is that the sense of this saying is that it is okay to bring worldly seculars (lions) into the fold (as if the community were "eating" them) as long as they change their ways and adopt the community's standards (become human). In other words, they can and should be converted. But woe to the community member who goes over to their ways; so be cautious in any missionary activities. But that's just a guess.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Here is some commentary: http://www.earlychristianwritings.co...elthomas7.html

    Based on that, it seems that the lion represents passions. For the human to consume the lion elevates the passions. If the opposite occurs, the human being is dehumanized.

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    The Gnostics seem to me to be of an ascetic disposition; thus perhaps their concept of passions would be different from mine. But then this seems to be the whole framework meaning of these sayings; that each person can rightly undertake his / her own interpretation.

    The right answers? Wait until Judgement Day and all will be revealed, or act according to your own conscience and moral standards?

  7. #37
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MANICHAEAN View Post
    The Gnostics seem to me to be of an ascetic disposition; thus perhaps their concept of passions would be different from mine.
    Asceticism and dualism are typical of gnostic groups. The Passions were seen as individual demons in some Nag Hammadi texts. Since the Enlightenment there has been a tendency in the West to think of passion as the opposite of reason. The Thomas community probably saw it as the opposite of meditative tranquility. Passion was also a function of the body and so in conflict with their asceticism. But it's all interconnected with a rejection of the Greco-Roman power structure of the day (whose elites also demons in many texts), which is why the lion as worldly power/bodily passion could work. But as usual with the Gospel of Thomas (as it was intended, really), it's hard to know for sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by MANICHAEAN View Post
    But then this seems to be the whole framework meaning of these sayings; that each person can rightly undertake his / her own interpretation.
    I'm not sure about that. Rightly undertaking to interpret a saying does not mean that (per the Thomas community) all interpretations are right. Remember those whom the lion eats are damned.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 12-04-2017 at 09:21 AM.
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  8. #38
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    Coptic Saying 24.

    "There is a light within a person and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark."

    This saying is normally interpreted as linking the concept of illumination to that of missionary witness. It appears from this saying that the light does not come from the world, or from outside, to the person, but from within the person to the world. This is very much in line with the Gnostic conception of the "luminous man."

    There is both a recurring theme of the orientation and valuation of inner light, ( seen previously), and an apparent high regard for the human being.

    What I find interesting is that a distinction is drawn in this saying, whereby the missionary motivation does not come from either command, ( as in Matthew 28. 16-20), or even in other somewhat dramatic revelations. E.g. Paul in the Galatians 1. 11-12

    "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught of it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."

    But rather the motivation comes from the light existing within the person.

    Finally, those that do not exhibit the capacity for light, or interpretation receive a negative appraisal; which is presumably where on a number of occasions many of the disciples frequently found themselves.

  9. #39
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Here are the commentaries I've also been looking at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.co...lthomas24.html

    I see this as affirming the existence of a "light" within us that has an effect on the whole world. We may or may not be aware of it, but non-awareness does not make it dark. Becoming aware of this light would be the spiritual journey the disciples want to pursue.

  10. #40
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    Yes, I agree; they do tend to be a bit heavy handed on those that choose not to seek, or are unable to perceive.

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    There are least five Canonical parallels to this Thomas saying. One is Matthew 5:14-16 (in the context of the Sermon on the Mount):

    "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

    The other four are from The Gospel of John, which developed separately from the synoptic sayings source, (although its author was probably aware of the existence of one or more of the synoptic Gospels). There is John 8:12:

    "Then spoke Jesus again to them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

    John 9:5 (Jesus speaking): "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

    And John 12: 35-36 (in the context of Jesus predicting his Crucifixion):

    "Then Jesus said to them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come on you: for he that walks in darkness knows not where he goes. While you have light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light."

    The theme of light is central to John, and further references could be found. Note especially the famous beginning of John's Gospel (John 1:1-5):

    "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

    If the earlier date for Thomas is correct, it is not impossible that that the Thomas community was responding to John's assertion about Jesus himself being the light (as opposed to the light being in those who understand the teachings of Jesus). Of course, it's equally possible that John was responding against the the Thomas community's beliefs by asserting that Jesus himself was the light, and that a personal with one's Savior was necessary for salvation.

    Whichever was the case (and of course, it could have been both), the Thomas version of the saying seems indebted to Matthew's: "You are the light of the world." But theologically there are critical differences. By placing the saying in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew is making its audience the multitude below, that is, the people of Israel. What is at issue in Matthew's version of the saying is the redemption of Israel. Hebrew Prophets in the Babylonian exile had foretold a future Israel that would hold sway among other nations and was described as a kind of paradise on earth. That hadn't happened at all, but Jesus' message (per Matthew) was that it was going to become a reality after all. Those who listened to him needed to understand that they had been chosen by God as a light to the nations in the Peaceable Kingdom to come. Israel needed to emerge from the dangerous obscurity in which it presently found itself. The city on the hill (Mt. Zion, from which the New Israel would emanate) could not but shine forth. Regardless of what Jesus' vision had been, that was how the author of Matthew had seen things.

    But the Thomas community had looked at it differently than Matthew or John. For Thomas, the light that "shines on the whole world" is "within a person." It does not come from Mt Zion or from a personal relationship with Jesus except insofar as Jesus' mind can be internalized by meditation on his sayings. And as we have seen from the start with this gospel, it is only the one who "discovers the interpretation of these sayings" who "will not taste death." This is Thomas' sotorology. For those to whom "the light does not shine, it is dark." Just as John required rebirth into Jesus Salvation, Thomas required enlightenment Into his mind. Neither was an all embracing, all-tolerant position. But at least John's version of Salvation was open to any who sought it.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  12. #42
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    Saying 26.

    Jesus said, "You see the sliver in your friend's eye, but you don't see the timber in your own eye. When you remove the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend's eye."

    This saying seems to apply only to a community of Coptic brothers and relates to their exclusive social interaction; whereby one must deal with ones own failings before assisting others, ( Judge not, lest ye be judged.)

    In comparison; in Matthew 7: 3,5 and Luke: 6: 41-42 the application is not so terse and would apply universally.

    One needs also to pick up in the saying, that one does not have to be perfect or pure to engage with others. Working on your own deficiencies "prepares" you to assist others. This strikes me as so sensible and pragmatic; and like so many of these sayings puts the initial responsibility on the individual to engage. Unfortunately, over the years I have seen so much of a blinkered approach to various religions, that this comes across as quite refreshing.

    In this saying there is no measuring up to an externally imposed ideal; but individuals working on themselves, among others doing similar, in a process of mutual transformation.

  13. #43
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    I like your idea of "mutual transformation" as the message of this saying. Also that one does not have to be perfect to engage with others.

  14. #44
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    This is an easy one since it is virtually the same saying placed by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount and by Luke in the Sermon on the Plain. I am not sure why you think Matthew uses if less exclusively than Thomas does. But since it occurs in both Matthew and Luke, it is recognizable as a likely saying of the historical Jesus, so its original intent may have been much broader (and arguably universal). It seems to me to take a stand against self-righteousness and the pietistic badgering of others, and to propose a model by which human beings (to take the saying universally) support one another with a mind to their own shortcomings. All that remains to be said is that it is advice seldom followed.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Coptic Saying 27.

    Jesus says, " If you do not fast from the world, you will not find God's domain. If you do not observe the sabbath day as a sabbath day, you will not see the Father."

    Immediately there comes to notice, a distinction between dietary fasting and what is termed "a fast from the world." You may recall in Coptic Saying 6 when the question of dietary fasting, (along with other ascetic / pious practices), came up, that there was no specific answer on the part of Jesus. They were neither rejected, nor advocated. Instead we seem to have implied the need to expose the internal moral dynamic on an individual basis.

    It is also becoming increasingly apparent that there is no set pattern of a topical arrangement in these sayings; such that the perceived meanings emerge as much from "in between" the sayings, as from within them.

    The question arises in this particular saying as to what is "a fast from the world." On the face of it there is a limited application to observing the Sabbath, but I'm presuming the extent is much wider and relating to general lifestyle. Once again, the criteria seems to be on an individual basis. What might be applicable to Job, might be extreme to many in the modern world. However emphasis is still laid on regulating ones intake of the world in order to find God's domain. For gentlemen of a certain age, it is certainly refreshing sometimes to retreat from the world of; tweets, junk food, rapping musicians and consumer based appetites, to submerge oneself in the simple rest and reflection implied in the meaning behind the Sabbath.

    Finally I cannot help but discern a certain subversive stance in these sayings inducing a distinctive stance towards the world and reality.

    I never got to wishing all my fellow Lit Netters a Merry Christmas, but allow me a mitigating wish to you all for a fruitful and enjoyable 2018.

    Best wishes
    M.

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